A 28-year-old Toronto man has been charged with aggravated assault and attempted murder for failing to disclose his HIV status to a male sexual partner. The man was arrested by officers of Toronto’s 32 division on Apr 29.
“We have reason to believe he attended Church and Wellesley and may have actually engaged in sexual activities without disclosing his HIV status,” said Const Brad Stapleton of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit at a May 7 press conference.
The police say they are looking to speak to anyone who may have had sex with the accused. The man’s name and photo was circulated with the press release. The mainstream press picked the story up. The police say the purpose of the press conference was to issue a public safety alert and that the accused has been frequenting the gaybourhood for the past five years. Stapleton declined to provide details of the charges.
“It’s presenting us with this idea that there’s this scary homosexual out there that the gay community is scared of,” says activist and playwright Sky Gilbert. “That to me is toxic. This is very homo-phobic. When you start circulating pictures and safety alerts and saying this is a scary guy, it’s about homophobia.”
According to Stapleton police believe the accused has been HIV-positive since 2000. That would mean he was 19 or 20 when he became HIV-positive.
“It’s definitely concerning that attempted murder charges have been laid and we’re waiting anxiously along with everyone else for the details,” says Alison Symington, senior policy analyst for the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
“The question is why attempted murder in this case if it is otherwise consensual sex with HIV nondisclosure?” she continues. “Why would it be an attempted murder rather than aggravated assault at this point?”
Xtra asked Richard Elliott, executive director of HIV/AIDS Legal Network, for advice on what you should do if you think you may have had sexual contact with the accused. Should you call the police as they ask and tell them all about it?
“I can’t answer that,” says Ellliott. “What I might do would be different from what someone else might do. I think if you have some reason to think you’ve done something with someone that puts you at some risk of becoming infected, what I think you should do is go get tested and you should practise safer sex.”
What about the police? Should you call the police?
“If it were me I would not think I would want to call the police and nail this guy,” says Elliott. “That would not be my reaction.”
The charges come a month after a Hamilton man was convicted of murder for failing to disclose his HIV status to his female partners. On Apr 4 Johnson Aziga, 52, was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of attempted aggravated sexual assault.
In the wake of the Aziga conviction advocates for people living with HIV/AIDS cautioned restraint in the use of criminal charges when it comes to HIV nondisclosure, arguing that it would hamper prevention efforts.
“I fear it gives the general public more vulnerability to HIV infection by giving them a false sense of security that criminal law will act as a deterrent to people engaging in high-risk sexual activities without disclosing their status,” said Angel Parks, coordinator of the AIDS Committee of Toronto’s Positive Youth Outreach program, at the time of the Aziga verdict. “Whereas we know there have been some studies that show…. the majority of cases of transmission actually occur before a person has been diagnosed. It’s when they’re most infectious and before they have anything to disclose to their partner.”
In the wake of the attempted murder charges Symington says the network will continue to try to clarify this emerging area of law.
“Criminal law is our most powerful tool in our society,” she says. “When an area of law develops like this without reflection and in ways that are inconsistent… that causes concern about how our criminal justice system is working.
“From our perspective we’re still working for the same things: To get quality research on the impacts of this area of law, to get an informed rational policy debate that would help toward guidelines to make the law develop in a more rational way and working in actual cases for judicial decisions that would clarify uncertainties in the law.”